Through the Trees

Yesterday, a friend braved the cold and ice to visit us for the afternoon. During our conversations, she told us about hearing of a practice, taken near the beginning of each year, of selecting a single word to help guide one’s daily motivations and activities during the course of the remainder of the year. She mused about what word she might select, saying she chose “energy” as the word she wished to use as her polestar for the year. She selected energy to serve as a reminder to build her energy daily and to channel her energy into areas of her life that would benefit from the attention. It took me almost no time to select “kindness” as my word; I want to constantly remind myself I do not know what people around me are going through—emotionally, physically, or otherwise—and for that reason, among many others, I should treat everyone with kindness. As I reflect on my choice, though, I question whether kindness is sufficiently practical; perhaps supportive or non-judgmental or tolerant or accepting or a hundred other words might be better drivers of concrete actions. Or, maybe focusing on how I interact with others is not the route to take; perhaps a better tactic would be to direct my attention to how I deal with my own emotional or intellectual challenges. Introversion comes to mind. Contemplation might be better. A word that provides impetus for me to more fiercely battle physical threats might be considerably more practical; but what word? After mulling about the matter overnight, I have not reached any unalterable conclusions. But I may be leaning in the direction of adapting the practice my friend described; choosing a word or an idea or a target of self-improvement or self-recovery that corresponds to the circumstances in which I find myself during any given stretch of time. Adapt. Maybe that’s the word. The concept merits more consideration…more intense thought. I enjoy this sort of self-exploration, though the results of the efforts—what I learn about who I am at any given moment—sometime disappoint me. Because I discover that, despite the amount of time and energy I devote to understanding who I am at my core, I do not know myself nearly as well as I should—or, at least, as well as I would like.


By late this afternoon—when I am scheduled to return to the oncology clinic for an injection intended to fight potential infections arising from chemo’s negative effects on my immune systems—I hope temperatures a bit above freezing and water in the form of rain falling from the sky will make the roads less treacherous and friendlier to drive on. I know now I should plan on returning to the clinic the day after my chemo treatments for the injection; waiting a few days gives infections more time to take hold, something I want to avoid. I do not remember whether, during my chemotherapy five years ago, it was the chemo that sapped my energy or it was the radiation treatment. Or both. This time, I am dealing only with chemo for now and probably for the duration. I hope I will not be drained of my energy during the course of the chemo regimen. So many questions to ask, but too little time to ask them and a brain too scrambled to remember what to ask.


For those of us with an inward turn of mind, which is another name for melancholy introspection, the beginning of a new year inevitably leads to thoughts about both the future and the past.

~ Michael Dirda ~


We do not know what the past held for us until the future reveals where the past was taking us. “Now” is too immediate and demands too much of our distracted attention to be instructional. But when the future is now, as it often is, we are left to wonder whether we are giving our perceptions about the past adequate time to settle into actual knowledge and understanding. The answer to that nagging concern must always wait until the future has morphed into the past. And, of course, when we look backward in time, we must ask whether our perceptions are being colored by tinted glasses—rose, smoke, amber…anything but pure, unbridled clarity. Even then, it’s just a guess.


It’s nearly 7, three hours after being rousted out of bed by a hungry, yowling cat. Only one demitasse of espresso so far. I believe I’ll have another. And a mug filled with cool water. Maybe another strawberry yoghurt, but probably not. Cereal? I looked up the various spellings of yoghurt. That spelling is common in the UK. In the US, the more preferred and more common spelling is yogurt. For some reason, my natural inclination in many cases in which words have a US and a UK spelling is to go with the UK spelling, usually without realizing I’ve chosen elements of language drawn from outside my country of birth. It’s the same with grey (my preferred spelling) and gray (the US default). None of these spelling issues will help me decide what to ingest next; perhaps a pair of dice would be more helpful. I’ll just go see. Daylight is beginning to show through the trees!

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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